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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

How Did the Ottoman Imperial Harem Operate?

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Nothing fascinated Europeans about the Ottoman Empire quite like the harem. Since no foreigners were permitted to enter it themselves, imaginations ran while about what sort of licentiousness happened behind the doors of Istanbul's Topkapi palace. But even though a sultan could have four wives and limitless concubines, the harem wasn't a sensual fantasy land. It was more of an imperial cadet academy, where foreign girls were turned into the wives of aristocrats and even future sultans. The harem was a large section of private apartments located on the grounds of Topkapi Palace. It consisted of more than 400 rooms. There the girls took lessons in theology, mathematics, embroidery, music, and literature. The most important lesson they gained, however, was in politics. The harem staff held enormous powerful as state administrators. They were typically eunuchs that supervised the female's quarters but also had influence on the palace. When the harem "cadets" entered the palace, they were placed at the lowest rung of a viciously competitive hierarchy in which one earned a promotion by attracting the attention of the Sultan. They began as a concubine and was not allowed to leave the palace without the permission of the Queen Mother (valide sultan), the reigning sultan's mother and a former concubine herself. If a girl managed to share a bed with the sultan, she became a gözde (the favorite). If she continued to curry his favor, then she became ıkbal (the fortunate). A woman to whom the sultan wanted a permanent union would become one of his four wives (kadın). If she birthed him a son who went on to become sultan, she became the next Queen Mother. Learn more about harem life in this episode.   TO HELP OUT THE SHOW Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help and I read each one. Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher
July 18, 2017
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to
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